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June 15, 2007

172 Million Bullets for Iraq
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Iraq Slogger reports that the Pentagon is buying 172 million bullets for the Iraqi Security Forces (That’s about 500 bullets per ISF Member).  They are also ordering 20K grenades for RPG-7 Launchers. 

Now on the one hand, if you are going to build a military you need to give it weapons.  But on the other, does this anyway seem like a good idea?  Iraq is already in the midst of a civil war.  The security forces are notoriously unreliable and sectarian.  The likelihood is that a good portion of these weapons will end up being used in sectarian violence or eventually against American troops.  In fact, the situation is so bad that Brian Katulis, an Iraq expert at the Center for American Progress, is now arguing that we should stop training Iraqi Security forces all together.

Increasingly it appears the United States is training and arming different sides of Iraq’s multiple civil wars rather than creating a national army and police force willing and able to protect the nation’s fragmented political leadership

Most of Iraq’s violence is related to a vicious struggle for power that only has a political solution. Training and skills building are not the fundamental issue for Iraq’s security forces. In fact many of Iraqi security forces have more training than hundreds of U.S. soldiers being deployed as part of this surge. Their problems are motivation and allegiance.

There are no good solutions for getting us out of the hole that is Iraq.  But as a first step I might suggest that at the very least we stop digging.


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I don't think there are very many people who'd deny that a "political solution" is the key to ending violence in Iraq. The problem is that they all understand the term to mean different things.

The American military and civilian leadership in country understand a political solution to mean factions outside the Iraqi government accepting that government's authority. American liberals understand the phrase to mean Iraqis working out their differences in the relatively benign environment they assume would develop if the American military were not present in the country. Iraqi Kurds see a political solution in terms of the rest of Iraq leaving them alone.

The Sunni Arab insurgency is convinced a political solution involves the deaths of their enemies, their enemies' families and friends, and the people from whom their enemies bought a loaf of bread last week, and abandonment of the silly notion that the Sunni Arab faction to which they belong should not have all the power in the country. Shiite militia leaders are sure a political solution means revenge on their Sunni Arab oppressors, lots and lots of it, followed by a test of strength among the Shiite factions for control of the national and local governments, not necessarily in that order.

All of these groups understand that the "political solution" they seek will involve a great deal of bloodshed, though the Kurds hope it isn't true of their political solution and American liberals half-believe it isn't true of theirs. And all of these groups share the belief that what is most important in this whole situation is what happens in Iraq, a belief that makes some sense for the people who live there and much less for people in any country with better things to do.

"Iraq is already in the midst of a civil war. The security forces are notoriously unreliable and sectarian. The likelihood is that a good portion of these weapons will end up being used in sectarian violence or eventually against American troops."

500 bullets per man is nearly meaningless. The typical US combatant in OIF goes outside the wire with more than 200 rounds, and expends far more than that in the course of his tour on ranges, SAF, warning shots, et al.

As for unreliability, having served with the MTT I might suggest that the Iraqi Army battalions in Anbar not only remained loyal to the US cause, but worked quite well in joint and single patrols.

The question hasn't been the reliability of the Iraqi Army formations, but how many actually exist and the problems of keeping them in the fight, which mostly revolve around sundry notions of the weak, corrupt central government's inability to supply them (we ended up doing a lot of that) and pay for their services.

If an IA goes several months without receiving his pay, and as a gainfully employed Military Age Male (MAM) is expected to provide for a large and extended family, and if he can't support said family and instead is shamed by his inability to do so, then he quits going to work and finds it elsewhere.

Solve the pay problem and one solves the problem of retaining manpower on the battlefield. Solve the supply problem, and the US can quit giving away bullets and RPGs.

What is probably most distressing, again, about Democracy Arsenal's military "expert" is that he's behind the times in dire predictions about the unreliability of IA forces (in this case, the LA Times,,1,3455332.story).

And even the LA Times almost got behind itself in apprehending the new and improved IA, which begs the question of how a professional, increasingly middle class, secular and educated officer and senior NCO corps of male Shi'i might ultimately come to view the chaotic, incompetent and corrupt political class in Baghdad, much less their rivals in the non-AQI Sunni insurgencies (who, you see, we're arming with far more than 500 bullets per person, so long as they kill AQI).

I also never thought I would see "an Iraq expert" and "the Center for American Progress" in the same sentence.

If the various IP, IA and whatnot cadres are inherently unreliable, then what would one make of the policywork on Iraq at the Center for American Progress?

Someone who inexplicably writes "The question hasn't been the reliability of the Iraqi Army formations, but how many actually exist and the problems of keeping them in the fight" is hardly in a position to make blind charges against other commentators at the CAP or anywhere else.

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